(Rome-New York) The man putting the words in George Bush's mouth isn't Dick Cheney. It wasn't even the late Donald Rumsfeld, "late" in the White House sense. It's Rome's own, Frank "Digits" Watkins. He's the man behind the President, actually the man behind and to the left of George Bush. That's where the teleprompter operator sits. And Watkins has been "faithful fiend", as the President calls him, since the first hanging chad.
"'Faithful fiend'," Watkins chuckles, "you know 43 has nicknames for everyone. I got that one when I accidentally left out the 'no' in one of his early speeches. The line should have read 'there are absolutely no WMDs in Iraq'. 43 didn't really notice it until shock and awe started and by then he just told me 'hey, they call it a mistake. I call it foreign policy.' Ever since then, I'm faithful fiend, which is a play on my making a mistake-in case you don't get it."
It's not an easy job. "It's not like I can use White Out at the White House," jokes Watkins, who attributes his wit to the inspiration of once getting a handwritten rejection letter from the Editor of the Reader's Digest column "Life in the Service". "And how many times will typos like that 'no WMD' work out so peachy? If the world is going to end in a nuclear catastrophe, I don't want that on my fingers."
Most people watching the President deliver a speech may be surprised to learn that the individual words are typed out as opposed to just scrolling. This was the case until George Bush took office. In order to lower unemployment, Bush ordered a typist to replace the automated prompter. As Watkins recalls it: "He told me 'you've got ten fingers, you know the alphabet, you're an American--that puts you one up on me, but I ain't sayin' which one.'"
Watkins attributes his ability (he can type 120 words a minute with an accuracy rate of 80%) to excessive autoerotic stimulation. "It sort of worked out that way because I'm a celibate evangelical who now has a firm handshake to boot."
Watkins plans on putting words in the President's mouth for as long as the Chief Executive will allow. "I love my job. It's important. And rest assured there will never be any f-o-o-t in the President's mouth as long as his faithful fiend is around."